The near sacrifice of Isaac—the Aqedah (עקידה) or “Binding” of Isaac in Jewish tradition—is a time of testing for Abraham. Yet the Hebrew patriarch is not the only one to undergo such a test; Joseph also encounters his own test that mirrors that of his great-grandfather. The author of the Joseph Novella (Genesis 37-50) presents the protagonist’s refusal of Potiphar’s wife as a trial reminiscent of the Aqedah. The similarities in these stories show that the same God who called Abram in Genesis 12 remains with Joseph at the end of Genesis, and that testing is a necessary part of being the Lord’s chosen people.

Scripture introduces the episode between Joseph and Potiphar’s wife with these words: “And it was after these things (ויהי אחר הדברים האלה; vayehi achar ha’devarim ha’eleh) [that Potiphar’s] wife… lifted up her eyes to Joseph and said, ‘Lie with me’” (Gen 39:7). This introduction restates the opening of the Aqedah: “And it was after these things (ויהי אחר הדברים האלה; vayehi achar ha’devarim ha’eleh) [that] God tested Abraham and said to him, ‘Abraham,’ and he said, ‘Here I am’” (Gen 22:1). More, the word for God “testing” Abraham is נסה (nasah), which sounds very much like נשׂא (nisa), the word for Potiphar’s wife “lifting up” her eyes to Joseph. To replicate the resonance in Hebrew, Genesis 22 begins, “And it was after these things nasah…” and the encounter with Potiphar’s wife begins, “And it was after these things nisa….” The author of the Joseph story provides a Hebrew wordplay that draws the reader back to the testing of Abraham.

The Joseph narrative also shares other language with the Aqedah. When Potiphar’s wife propositions Joseph, he responds that her husband “has not withheld (חשׂך; chasak) anything from me except you, because you are his wife. How then can I do this great evil and sin against God?” (Gen 39:9). Before the Joseph Novella, the Hebrew for “withhold” only appears with reference to events involving Abraham—most prominently during the Aqedah, when the angel of the Lord tells him, “Do not lay your hand upon the boy or do anything to him, for now I know that you fear the Lord because you have not withheld (חשׂך; chasak) your son, your only one, from me” (Gen 22:12; cf. 22:16; 20:6).

A final echo of the Aqedah appears when Potiphar’s wife tells her husband, “The Hebrew servant, whom you have brought among us, came in to me to mock (לצחק; l’tsacheq) me” (Gen 39:17; cf. 39:14). The Hebrew word for “mock” (also translated “laugh”) is צחק (tsachaq)—the very word from which we get the name “Isaac” (יצחק; Yitschaq; cf. Gen 21:5-6). These multiple linguistic parallels between the Joseph narrative and the Aqedah highlight the fact that Joseph’s experiences rerun those of his ancestors, Abraham and Isaac. Just as God tested Abraham, Joseph’s encounter with Potiphar’s wife is also a test and, like Abraham, Joseph passes his test by refusing the illicit proposition. In this way, Genesis’ early Hebrew history begins (with Abraham) the same way that it ends (with Joseph)—with each individual passing tests that underscore their continued devotion to God.



  1. Excellent! The "test" comes to each of us (Proverbs 17:3). Started with Adam and Eve, Cain and Abel, Noah, etc. It is important to pass "the" test. Blessings from HIM.
  2. (2) The early rabbinic middle class "Genesis Rabbah" states that God would say, "I never considered telling Abraham to kill Isaac". Rabbi Yona Ibn Janach (Spain, 11th century) wrote that God only asked for a symbolic sacrifice.
  3. (3) Rabbi Yosef Ibn Caspi (Spain, early in the 14th century) wrote that the imagination of Abraham strayed him, which led him to believe that he was commanded to sacrifice his son. Ibn Caspi writes. How can God command Yahweh such a despicable act?
  4. (4) After all, it is the blood and flesh of another created being and Yahweh forbids murder of your next of kin in. Therefore, bloodshed will not be part of Yahweh's practice.
  5. (5) Yahweh tells us that any human sacrifice is an abomination, something He hates, and so horrible that it would never come into HIS own mind to claim it from us.
    • Thanks for your comments, Johann. The question of human sacrifice in the Bible is more complex than this. Yes, in some contexts God abhors human sacrifice--particularly on behalf of other gods (e.g., Lev 18:21; Jer 7:31)--but in other contexts human death is met with divine approval and even atonement (e.g., Num 25:6-13; 2 Sam 21:1-14). More, Jesus gives his life as a "ransom" payment to God (cf. Mk 10:45; Matt 2:28), which aligns with both prior Second Temple theology and later rabbinic theology about the sacrificial deaths of human beings making atonement (e.g., 2 Macc 7:30-38; 4 Macc 17:22; y. Yoma 2:1; Lev. R. 20:12). If you're interested in the nuances of the topic, see Jon Levenson's book, "The Death and Resurrection of the Beloved Son."

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    • HaShem never said one cannot give his life for others. Yeshua was not "sacrificed" on the altar, He was crucified on a cross or stake outside the Temple at the time of the Temple sacrifices for Pesach. So there is no violation of Torah.
  6. Thanks for the insight! God never tempts, but He does test but says no test will be allowed to be too strong for us. The way of escape is always there, more challenging for Abraham and Joseph because of their position in Yahweh.
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